there are 17 posts from March 2004

March 31, 2004

markoff on gmail

According to John Markoff in the Times, GMail’s supposed to launch tomorrow. Anyone without inside info willing to make a bet on whether Google will deliver personalized ads based on the content of the messages users are reading?

March 30, 2004

clay on situated software

Everyone and their mother (referenced by design) will be pointing to Shirky’s latest, Situated Software. And for good reason – this is one of his best.

First, it’s great to finally read something about social software that isn’t about LinkedOrkutsers or collaborative wikis, but about small tools that have affordances only for the immediate communities they serve. Second, he calls out something critical that’s being lost in the outsourcing / offshoring noise – that “there’s also a lot of downsourcing going on, the movement of programming from a job description to a more widely practiced skill.” And third, there’s a very intriguing idea at the end of the piece re. eliminating the expectations that apps will/should live forever:

Expectations of longevity, though, are the temporal version of scale – we assume applications should work for long periods in part because it costs so much to create them. Once it’s cheap and easy to throw together an application, though, that rationale weakens. Businesses routinely ask teams of well-paid people to put hundreds of hours of work creating a single PowerPoint deck that will be looked at in a single meeting. The idea that software should be built for many users, or last for many years, are cultural assumptions not required by the software itself.

Indeed, as a matter of effect, most software built for large numbers of users or designed to last indefinitely fails at both goals anyway. Situated software is a way of saying “Most software gets only a few users for a short period anyway; why not take advantage of designing with that in mind?”

In most corporate environments, even the little apps that get built do end up lasting forever. And become more and more difficult to rip out and replace with the new new thing. Assuming that the tools do migrate to a point where it’s “non-programmers” that are building applications, should micro-apps designed for a few users be built with a “good until” expiration date, by design?

March 29, 2004


Dear Lazyweb,

Would someone please build FrooglePEG? Just a little app that hits, selects from the front page list of “items recently found with Froogle” pulls one of the images returned, and displays them in a never-ending stream? Bonus points for making the speed at which images update configurable by the user.

Why? Why not! Who wouldn’t want a real-time glimpse into the soul of ecommerce?


March 26, 2004

online travel site homepages

Preface: it must be Matt Jones day.

Travelocity launched their redesigned site this week (along with a redesigned visual identity). Their press release cites the user research they conducted. “Findings indicated that consumers viewed online travel sites as visually crowded, with too many offers and features competing for their attention.” And I think they did hit the mark in cleaning up their home page, their flight search results pages, and their overall IA.

But earlier this week Matt Jones pointed to Michael Bernard’s study “Examining User Expectations of the Location of Web Objects,” which notes that most study participants “expected a website’s internal search engine to be generally centered at the upper half of a web page.” (Jones went on to make a recommendation for how the newly redesigned should rework their search box.) The combination of Jones’ post and the new Travelocity got me thinking about just what it is that I love about Expedia so much (besides the calendar integration, that is), so I went to compare the two (and threw in a look at Orbitz, for good measure).

And something became immediately obvious to me: it’s all about the home page. Now, admittedly, I’m a utility bigot, and I’m not the type to surf endlessly for vacation deals to Aruba. But Expedia puts the flight search box – the number one reason I’m visiting – front and center, and given it plenty of room to breathe. Both Travelocity and Orbitz, however, shuttle theirs to the left-hand gutter, giving much more visual prominence to “marketing” items – hotel deals, flight deals, travel deals and deals on deals.

So because there’s nothing better to do at midnight on a Thursday, I grabbed screencaps of the home pages of Expedia, Travelocity and Orbitz (at 1024x768 resolution with just a bit of chrome and no scrolling) and mapped the major areas of functionality, in four categories. The flight picker (obviously), nav/tools (things that help the user with functionality of the site), marketing (deals, deals and more deals) and branding.

The colors obviously tell the story on their own, but what jumps out at me is the visual prominence of Expedia’s flight picker, and how the remainder of the page is fairly evenly balanced between nav/tools and marketing. Again, call me a utility bigot, but is it any surprise that Expedia commands 40% of the online travel market?

March 26, 2004

open caches

Matt Jones points to Matt Locke’s thoughts on public caches, “standalone devices embedded into street furniture or trains that people could use to upload or download content.” The key feature – each device would be standalone. This would reduce the likelihood of one content provider spamming the network (they’d have to physically travel to each node), and create interesting effects related to “slowness.”

Interestingly, we came up with no examples where slowness itself was an asset, but a few of the effects of slowness were interesting. One was privacy/security - the Public Cache network most closely resembled the physical networks of drop-boxes and other intelligence/spy techniques. The process of uploading/downloading should be anonymous, like the messages left under park benches or empty trees in many a cold-war spy story.

This is pretty much the reverse scenario of something I envisioned about a year ago; an opportunity for Sony to leverage their wifi-enabled portable servers into a content distribution network localized to high-traffic locales like airports, train stations, etc.

If I had $500 to spare, I’d plop a wifi-enabled drive on my roof, stick a high gain antenna on it and open it up as wide as possible, just to see if folks in our (reasonably high-traffic, tech savvy, Starbucks-network equipped) neighborhood would (a) notice it and/or (b) do something with it.

March 25, 2004


Since Jerry Michalski and Jason Kottke have already posted about this, I figure it’s about time I write about here.

Living in northern California for the past 13+ years, I’ve basically given up on any ability I used to have to place events from recent history in any kind of date context. You see, the lack of any extreme weather variability (we don’t have seasons here, the way that folks in, say, upstate New York have seasons) makes it impossible to remember things like “when were the inlaws here?” (Was that April? July? November? I remember it being cool and foggy, with a bit of wind…) So a couple of years ago I started keeping simple timelines – “major” personal events over the course of a year, to make it easier to scan a period of time without being bogged down in the dozens of weekly appointments that clog the day-to-day calendar.

I’m in the messaging business. Focused – today – on email. But lately I’ve been interested in how messages (of all stripes) could more effectively be integrated into where we best process specific types of information. Your average inbox is not great at organizing time-oriented material, especially reminders about events that will take place in the future – calendars are obviously better at that. And with iCal (the format, not the app), it becomes reasonably brainless to publish individual events and/or a stream of events out to users. Case in point: it was probably less than one day of effort for the engineers at Expedia to add a downloadable calendar event to your online travel itinerary. But the fact that I can automagically pop my flight info into Outlook is at the top of my list of reasons why I’m loyal to Expedia.

So, anyway. is the result of some noodling on those two issues. A single page view of a year. Which is also rendered in calendar form, and made available for layering on top of your calendar. It’s hindsight publishing, of course (this did happen on this day, instead of this is going to happen on this day). But calendars are not only planning tools, they’re rememberance agents. And layering information like major news stories, weather (a la Jerry’s story about his old DayPlanner habits), sports scores and even personal bloggish notations could be an interesting use of the iCal format.

Related question: is anyone doing anything interesting with iCal beyond event data? Are there any “X of the day” publishers providing iCal subscriptions? Any journal-ists spilling their secrets in calendar form, instead of on LiveJournal?

March 24, 2004

Clarke apologizes.

Amidst two days of blame avoidance and “what if” hypotheses, Richard Clarke, the man in the center of the current political storm over 9/11, does what no one else has had the humility (or the humanity) to do: apologize.

Because I have submitted a written statement today, and I’ve previously testified before this commission for 15 hours, and before the Senate-House Joint Inquiry Committee for six hours, I have only a very brief opening statement. I welcome these hearings because of the opportunity that they provide to the American people to better understand why the tragedy of 9/11 happened and what we must do to prevent a reoccurance. I also welcome the hearings because it is finally a forum where I can apologize to the loved ones of the victims of 9/11. To them who are here in the room, to those who are watching on television, your government failed you, those entrusted with protecting you failed you and I failed you. We tried hard, but that doesn’t matter because we failed. And for that failure, I would ask – once all the facts are out – for your understanding and for your forgiveness. With that, Mr. Chairman, I’ll be glad to take your questions.

March 22, 2004

outlook as platform

Anil nails what’s happening with Outlook – it’s a platform, not a product. And I don’t think he’s even using it in its fully glory, as a client for Exchange and (to a lesser extent) Sharepoint. While everyone’s been nattering on about the transformative power of social software, Microsoft’s actually been building it, and pushing collaborative tools down into the apps where people live – Outlook and the rest of the Office suite.

March 09, 2004

task management

Could someone please explain to me exactly why AOL’s instant messaging client is currently consuming more than 29 megs of memory? That’s more than the Windows shell. Two and a half times more than Outlook, which everyone complains is a hog. And almost five times that of Yahoo’s IM client. That just seems insane to me. I know system resources are ridiculously cheap these days, but unless AOL’s installed a complete peer to peer social software platform on my desktop that they’re just waiting to spring on an unsuspecting public, I can’t imagine what the heck they’re doing with all that memory space…

March 09, 2004

smells like robots



Originally uploaded by riddle.

Posted by msippey from flickr

Spreading throughout the web – images posted to blogs via Flickr. Shazam! Smells like teen robots.

March 05, 2004

the american people

Greg Knauss launches The American People, an automated news service that plucks the phrase “the American people” out of any politics-related story on Yahoo.

The American People. You hear an awful lot about them. Politicans, especially, are experts: they know what we want, need, feel, think, deserve, demand. So we thought we’d start keeping track of who’s claiming to speak for us, the American People. Who speaks for you?

(Relatedly: a very very smart web application developer asked me last night what the big deal is about RSS. We didn’t have time to get into it, but here’s one reason: having a wide variety of content available in standard formats makes remixes like The American People that much easier to pull off. And after seeing the new Bush ads, I want a similar service that pulls mentions of “September 11” from the same sources.)

March 05, 2004

celeb power

Amongst all the chatter about today’s conviction of Martha Stewart, this is by far my favorite piece of the story, from a Reuters story this afternoon…

Neither Stewart, who was visited in the courtroom during the trial by celebrity friends such as Bill Cosby and Rosie O’Donnell, nor Bacanovic took the stand in their own defense.

The appearance of other celebrities, however, may have done the businesswoman more harm than good. “If anything it was taken as a little bit of an insult,” said [juror] Hartridge. “Like that was supposed to sway our decision?”

If that was an intentional strategy on the part of the defense – to have jurors see Martha’s high-profile friends come to her aid – it obviously backfired. Could Stewart and her attorneys honestly envision the other scenario? One where a juror stands up in front of the press and says “Well, we know she broke the law and lied to investigators, but c’mon, did you see Bill Cosby in the courtroom? How cool was that! She can’t be that bad if he’s there to support her… So we acquitted, hoping for a dinner party invite.”

March 03, 2004


Why I love the web, reason #425. There’s actually a blog called “,” covering ETL projects, processes and technology. He’s even got a clever tagline (“data integration, one bit at a time”).

Obviously, if you don’t know what ETL stands for, then this ain’t for you.

March 03, 2004

lookout software

I know this will sound like an ad, but… If you use Outlook, you need Lookout, a plugin for Outlook that indexes your mail store (whether it’s local or stored on an Exchange or IMAP server), attachments, your contact list, your calendar and even your filesystem and offers lightning-fast full-text search. If you’re still filing email into a zillion different folders, you need to get on with your life, install Lookout, and get your head around a three-folder lifestyle: inbox, trash and “keepers.”

Oh, and in case you’re frustrated by the anemic “about us” page, know that Lookout is a product of Eric Hahn and the Inventures Group. Hahn has deep, deep roots in email – he was VP of Engineering at cc:mail, and went on to found Collabra, which became the core of Netscape’s collaboration products.

March 03, 2004

holy cow, bryan's famous.

Bryan Boyer won ID Magazine’s Global ID Card Competition.

And the winner is…Bryan Boyer of Providence, Rhode Island, for a card that probes the complex nature of identity with devastating minimalism. A small, oblong slip of paper represents the modest resources of most people on earth. “What does an I.D. card mean for those without enough money to buy a car or have a credit card?” Boyer explained. “Do you really exist in this world if you don’t participate in the great global finance machine?” Divided into sections, the card is labeled with airport-code-like abbreviations representing the questions, Where have you been? Where are you now? Where are you going? Where did you begin? Where do you wish you were? One’s true self can be gleaned from the matrix of these responses, Boyer insisted, as much as anyone’s identity can be pinned down in an age when facial features, names, and addresses are equally fluid. “Answering the five questions on the card tells us who you are now, and who you may be tomorrow,” he said.

Bryan Boyer’s winning design for a global I.D. card forgoes photos and statistics in favor of short-hand notes describing the card holder’s past, present, and future destinations.


March 02, 2004

if i ran gizmodo

So Nick Denton’s likely looking for someone to blog for Gizmodo. If it were my pub, here’s what I’d do.

  • Shift the focus from the gadget to the user. Forget speeds/feeds; think usage and emotion.
  • Scrap the single writer thing. There’s too much to cover. Instead, hire (update: or syndicate – see comments) 6-10 different ones. Enable competing viewpoints on products.
  • Whatever you do – don’t assign those writers by product categories – assign by lifestyle. One covers teens. Another covers campus tech. Another covers urban hipsters. Another for soccer dads/moms. Another for middle manager types. Another for executive chic.
  • Shifting to user / lifestyles will open up channel sponsorship opportunities – wrap the teen market in XBox branding. Wrap the college campus market in Apple branding. Wrap the exec/chic market in Prada or something.
  • Distribute the content creation. Use trackback / commenting / whatever to enable people to tell their own stories – the street finds its own uses for things, so let the street tell you what it’s doing with the tech that’s in the stores now.

Etc., etc. The possibilities are endless. (Update #2: what if one of those possibilities was Gizmodo as a _service instead of a publication? See comments.)_

March 01, 2004

iTunes as remote player

I guess this isn’t rocket science, and I know this has been beaten to death by those in the know, but I’m still blown away by Apple’s implementation of Rendezvous in both iTunes for the Mac and iTunes for Windows. I’m across the house from the Mac, running a local version of iTunes on the Windows laptop, pulling music across the wireless network. No wonder folks like Tivo are all over this technology (with their purchase of Strangeberry).

That being said, there was a “duh” moment in turning on music sharing on the Mac; had to know how to configure OS X’s built-in firewall to allow access to port 3689 or whatever it was. Not quite idiot proof, but damn close.